Thursday, September 8th, 2011
“As a child, I always felt like something was missing in my life. I grew up the only child with a mother who worked all the time as a parole officer. By the time she got home, she was so tired and wanted to eat and go to sleep. She didn’t have time for me. All I wanted was a hug or for her to say, “How was your day daughter?’, but I never got it. She gave me material things, but that can’t make you the same happy.
“I was so lonesome and looking for love and turned me to the streets. On the streets, we talked about life and I felt like people cared about me and asked me things. I found the love there, but also started smoking weed, drinking and then dropped out of school in tenth grade.
“I didn’t understand tough love back then. My Mom was strict, but she also wasn’t strict, you know what I’m saying. My other friends were out doing things, and I wanted to do the same. My Mom would say come home at 10 p.m. and I came home at 1 a.m. I didn’t need to listen to no one, and it hurt me. Them streets got me in a lot of trouble.
“The law finally caught up with me when I turned 26 and had an 18-month-old and one-month-old daughter. They got me on armed robbery and locked me up for 14 years. My lifestyle meant that I didn’t raise neither my daughters. I left that responsibility to my Mom.
“I saw them on occasions while I was locked up in D.C., but once they transferred me to Danbury, Connecticut and then Tallahassee, Florida, I kept in contact, but it wasn’t like holding them and seeing them like I wanted to. My first three years in prison were so hard. I was bitter and blamed everyone but myself. When I went through the drug program, I learned to get rid of my bitter heart. After five or six years, I started to change. I finally asked how I got myself in here, and how can I get myself out of prison? I realized that I needed to change my thinking, outlook on life, and my heart.
“When I came out, it was hard. I love cooking and got my culinary apprenticeship diploma in prison, but when you apply for jobs, they want to know about that gap. That long gap on your resume from when you were away. Being in prison taught me about being honest, and I wasn’t used to being honest. I told the truth, but that still didn’t help me get a job.
“When I was in the halfway house, I heard about D.C. Central Kitchen, and decided to try it out. I came here, and my first thought was that they couldn’t do nothing for me. Things were going so slow, and I was ready to take off. But, I learned to be humble and sit still. I took a cooking class here, and then they hired me to be a chef here. This place has taught me so much. I feel honored to work here. Before this, I didn’t have no money or a place to go, I was just out there. Now that I am here, I have an account and an apartment with my name on it.
“Being here also helped me reconnect with my daughters. At first, they didn’t understand why I left them. See, I never got an opportunity to explain to them what was going on in my life back then. But I told them, if y’all wanna be stuck in the past, I’m gonna leave you in the past. I am trying to move straight and forward. Now, we have a beautiful relationship. I got out in time to help my oldest go to the prom and head out to college. Now, I am working on my last daughter.
“I want my daughters to have what I didn’t. I want them to talk to me. They know that we can sit down and talk about anything and work things out. Being angry gets you nowhere. And, I know that.
“My daughters also teach me to listen. I used to be so stubborn. Now, I take suggestions. If you say, “Jude, go left,” even if I think that going right is a short cut, I am going to listen to you because the right may get me in trouble. I feel like I am learning all about this new side of life – no drugs, no prison, having a job, and having a foundation of love and respect for my children and mother, which is so nice.”